U.S. News Asks Law School Deans to go Beyond ABA Standards

Per Bob Morse’s blog, Morse Code:

U.S. News agrees with the efforts of Law School Transparency to improve employment information from law schools and make the data more widely available. We are also aware that the American Bar Association is studying changes to the standards that law schools must use when they report employment data for graduates. We agree that more still needs to be done by all parties. To that end, U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly reached out to law school deans in a letter mailed earlier this week.

The letter begins by focusing on how legal education is being perceived:

Dear Dean ___,

As you know, there have been some serious questions raised about the reliability of employment data reported by some schools of law to the American Bar Association and other sources. I write with some reluctance because it is not our role at U.S.News & World Report to be any sort of regulatory body over law schools or anyone else. We are a journalism company that gathers and analyzes information useful to our readers.

But I think we can all agree that it is not in anyone’s interest—especially that of prospective students—to have less than accurate data being put out by law schools. It’s creating a crisis of confidence in the law school sector that is unnecessary and we think could be easily fixed.

Specifically, employment after graduation is relevant data that prospective students and other consumers should be entitled to. Many graduate business schools are meticulous about collecting such data, even having it audited. The entire law school sector is perceived to be less than candid because it does not pursue a similar, disciplined approach to data collection and reporting.

We have encouraged Mr. Morse to provide more employment information to prospective law students. He has acknowledged our efforts in the past, and this week’s letter to the deans is a clear signal that he is making good on his word. U.S. News may not be the regulatory agency responsible for setting the disclosure standards, but its influence in altering law school behavior should not be understated. Regardless of whether or not law school deans will view U.S. News’s request as a form of antagonism (given their many criticisms of the U.S. News rankings, which are due out next week), there is no doubt that administrators are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult position.

Mr. Morse is correct to point out that the ABA is the entity in charge of setting the standards. The ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee, chaired by Dean Polden of Santa Clara Law School, is holding its next meeting on April 4 in Chicago. Our hopes are that the SRC is taking note of the recent comments by Mr. Morse and others, even as it prepares to announce proposed changes to the disclosure requirements.

Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Morse is also correct to call on law schools to go past the current industry standards and disclose more information for the benefit of their students. Schools that have withheld voluntary reporting under the guise of waiting around for ABA reform must revisit their policies and consider the ethical importance of moving beyond the status quo.

Read the full text of the letter after the jump:

Letter from U.S. News EIC Brian Kelly

Dear Dean ___,

As you know, there have been some serious questions raised about the reliability of employment data reported by some schools of law to the American Bar Association and other sources. I write with some reluctance because it is not our role at U.S.News & World Report to be any sort of regulatory body over law schools or anyone else. We are a journalism company that gathers and analyzes information useful to our readers.

But I think we can all agree that it is not in anyone’s interest—especially that of prospective students—to have less than accurate data being put out by law schools. It’s creating a crisis of confidence in the law school sector that is unnecessary and we think could be easily fixed.

Specifically, employment after graduation is relevant data that prospective students and other consumers should be entitled to. Many graduate business schools are meticulous about collecting such data, even having it audited. The entire law school sector is perceived to be less than candid because it does not pursue a similar, disciplined approach to data collection and reporting.

At U.S. News, we work to make meaningful and fair comparisons, based on industry-accepted data. We provide a great deal of information to prospective students and serve an important function as an intermediary between them and schools such as yours. We have become popular because people value the information we provide, and many schools have benefitted from the exposure our coverage has given them.

To accomplish this, we rely on a certain amount of goodwill and ethical behavior from the various institutions that we survey, and our experience has been that the vast majority of them behave ethically. It is not our role to be setting industry standards nor enforcing them. However it is our responsibility to provide accurate information to our readers. To eliminate some of the gaming that seems to be taking place, we have changed the way we compute employment rates for the rankings due out March 15. In addition, we will also be publishing more career data than we have in the past in an effort to help students more completely understand the current state of legal employment. We think more still needs to be done.

The main responsibility to gather data and implement quality standards lies with the ABA, which also accredits law schools. For whatever reason, it appears that some schools do not treat the ABA reporting rules with the seriousness one would assume. We understand that the ABA is working toward the creation of tighter, more meaningful standards, which seem promising.

But the ABA can’t do it alone. Whatever the ABA’s ultimate decision, we would urge you to make sure that the information your school is reporting is as accurate as possible, and to consider going beyond the current industry standards. Perhaps we need metrics besides total employment rates to evaluate a successful law program. More data—on employment or other topics—is a positive factor for our readers and your students. We stand ready to work with you to find ways of publishing it.

Sincerely,

Brian Kelly

Earlier:: U.S. News Expresses Support for Greater Employment Transparency
U.S. News to Reform Its Disclosure of Surveyed Employment Information

One thought on “U.S. News Asks Law School Deans to go Beyond ABA Standards”

  1. Thank God,
    The Law Schools have officially been accused of gaming the employment numbers by U.S. News and still remained silent, not disagreeing with the accusations. If law schools are misleading prospective students by advertising deceptive employment data, is that not the very definition of false advertising?

    False Advertising elements under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act:

    (1) the defendant made a false or misleading statement of fact in acommercial advertisement about a product;(2) the statement either deceived or had the capacity to deceive a substantial segment of potential consumers;(3) the deception is material, in that it is likely to influence the con-sumer’s purchasing decision;(4) the product is in interstate commerce; and (5) the plaintiff has been or is likely to be injured as a result of thestatement.

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